For the Dirt on Safe Digging, Call 811

Homeowners and workers should always have underground utility lines marked to avoid the outages, injuries and property damage that come with unintentionally striking a utility line.

April 16, 2014 | By Paul Netter

Can you dig it?

If it involves actual digging and not 1970s slang, yes, but call 811 first because every smart digging job requires a call. It could prevent the outages, property damage, injuries and even death that can occur when underground utilities are hit.

“Whether you’re doing the job yourself or hiring someone, you should always call 811 to ensure safe digging,” said Don Neal, Southern California Edison’s director of Corporate Environmental Health and Safety. “You or those around you could be harmed and you can disrupt utility service to an entire neighborhood.”



​The Common Ground Alliance finds that these calls come far less than necessary, saying in a report last year that 48 percent of homeowners who plan to dig do it without calling 811. It also results in hundreds of thousands of unintentional underground utility-line strikes annually, according to the alliance.

To prevent such mishaps during National Safe Digging Month and beyond, pre-mark the area where the digging will be done with white paint, stakes with white flags, chalk or any other suitable material, including flour or sugar.

Then call at least two days before the job to have underground utility lines marked for free before projects ranging from planting trees and shrubs to building a pool, deck or fence. That means calling no later than Wednesday for a weekend project.        

“Even with the markings, you should still dig cautiously,” Neal said. “Markings are simply guidelines to keep you safe, so remain vigilant while doing all digging projects.”

Utility lines that will be marked include those for electricity, gas, water and sewer, cable TV, telephone and high-speed Internet. The rupture of a high-pressure, natural-gas pipe can in particular result in a major explosion.

In addition to increasing safety and reliability, 811 service is required by the law for homeowners and contractors. On the flip side, digging into a line may not only cause outages and injuries, but also lead to potential repair costs and fines. And this applies whether digging in a residential area, industrial plant or construction site.

To avoid accidents, professional locators will come out after your 811 call and mark the approximate locations of underground lines with colored paint and/or flags before projects large and small, from major excavations to the installation of flag poles, mailboxes, sprinklers and patios and even gardening. The color of the paint and/or flag signifies the type of underground utility.

If an underground utility is ever nicked or cut, however, the affected utility should be notified immediately. People can also call 811 to report it as well as get contact numbers for the affected utility.

Topics: Safety